Hook: September is National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, a time to educate, create awareness, and provide information about screening and early detection. For patients who have been diagnosed with this deadly type of cancer, the second leading cause of death in men behind lung cancer, there is an urgency for finding successful treatments and cures.
Promising Cancer Treatment Research at UNCW: Researchers at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, funded by the National Institutes of Health National Cancer Institute, are finding new ways to target prostate cancer cells.
UNCW College of Science and Engineering Faculty Dr. Sridhar Varadarajan, chemistry and biochemistry, and Dr. Art Frampton, biology and marine biology, are collaborating at UNCW to develop compounds that can successfully seek and destroy cancerous prostate cells while leaving healthy cells untouched.
Unlike other pharmaceutical treatments currently available that harm both healthy and cancerous cells, like chemotherapy, this research breakthrough could lead to reduced side effects for cancer patients, as well as mitigate risks for secondary cancers.
Their research is partly based on the success of their previous research that targeted breast cancer cells.
Dr. Sridhar Varajaradan: “All of us know someone who has had cancer or gone through chemotherapy and how debilitating it can be. That puts a sense of urgency to what we are doing. There is always a human who is waiting for successful therapy, so time is of the essence. I always think about it when we do this research. That is really what keeps us going and what drives us.”
“Every cancer is really a different disease. It isn’t a one size fits all. What we learned from our breast cancer treatment research is that there are receptors within breast cancer cells that grab our compound and drag it to the nucleus where they can deliver lethal damage to the DNA in the cancer cells. We found those same receptors are also present in prostate cancer cells. We have applied this approach to brain cancer cells with promising results, too.”
Dr. Art Frampton: “Our goal is to come up with a more targeted therapy different from the current ‘sledgehammer approach’ to cancer treatment that causes side effects and kills healthy cells. We are focused on developing a very selective compound that kills only cancer cells called ‘selective toxicity.’ The patient would take this compound, which would seek out cancer cells but leave healthy cells alone.”
The research currently involves 14 UNCW undergraduate and PhD students who are primarily female.
The grant is $447,000 for three years from the National Cancer Institute, the federal government’s principal agency for cancer research and the largest funder of cancer research in the world.